Rambling Letter To Stan Kroenke
It’s been a while since we had an open letter to someone at Arsenal and lets be honest here, life just isn’t the same unless we have an open letter doing the rounds. So, in order to help make life that little more bearable I’ve written an open letter to Stan Kroenke.
I hope you don’t mind me calling you Stan. I feel like I really know you and you come across as such a friendly guy – a real man of the people – and that’s why Mr Kroenke seemed far too formal for such an epistle.
I’m writing to you concerning your custodianship of Arsenal Football Club, or more technically Arsenal PLC, and your recent comments about owning a Premier League football club.
You see, I’m worried. Some of the things you’ve said recently trouble me. Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference in Boston you said:
“For me, being an individual owner, I have to have some sort of reality involved. If you want to win championships then you would never get involved. I think the best owners in sports are the guys that sort of watch both sides a bit. If you don’t have a good business then you can’t really afford to go out and get the best players unless you just want to rely on other sources of income. Over there [in the Premier League] it was sort of like ‘well, we’ve got guys from the Middle East, the oil price is over $100, they can spend anything they want’. But the problem I saw with all of that; those people can lose interest. It doesn’t mean that they will, but I sort of threw that out there: ‘What happens when the Middle Eastern family, this thing’s costing a lot of money and they decide to go home?’ I said what really happens in those situations is the fans get hurt because the players get picked up and paid if they’re good, the front office gets other jobs.”
The part about ensuring we have a good business so we can afford to buy the best players is positive. It’s what we want to hear but more so it’s what we want to see being put into practice. We want to see these historic TV deals and lucrative sponsorships transferred into investment in the playing side. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship for all concerned. The better our players, coaches and facilities the better the product we can produce. The better the product the more attractive we are to sponsors and our brand improves and increases in value. This is good for you as it improves your net worth and assets to borrow against. Our profits increase and we can continue to invest in the playing side and the cycle continues. That’s not quite been the case but I’ll come back to that.
You reference oil funded owners and cite the potential risk that they become bored and pull out leaving their old plaything in serious jeopardy. This is a worry for many supporters of such clubs but for the moment they are enjoying basking in glory. When the time comes that their benefactors pull out and it becomes clear what the ramifications of that are they may regret not opposing it. As such, an owner who is committed to us in the long term and not so heavily invested they run the risk of pulling the carpet out from under us is an attractive proposition, as long as the first part is honoured.
Sadly, the first part is not being honoured and that is apparent due to your other, and infinitely more worrying, comment that suggests you are not interested in winning championships. There may, indeed, be some context to apply there such as “I want to win championships but not to the detriment of the long term viability of the club” but it doesn’t come across like that.
There are those of us, myself included, who have dismissed the notion that Arsenal’s board are happy with Arsenal finishing in the top four every year and have no ambition to improve upon that. Your comments are making us look very stupid indeed.
Don’t confuse minimum achievement with maximum ambition we say. Don’t think that the board don’t want us to win the title because it’s in their financial interests for us to do it, they just set top four as the minimum target and because Wenger achieves it every year they have no real cause to let him go we say. Is that the truth, Stan. Do we have you sussed correctly or are you genuinely uninterested in how Arsenal perform as long as the balance sheet is healthy?
Is Arsène Wenger the shield man for the board? Are you publicly backing him in the transfer market but secretly hindering him knowing he’ll never throw you under the bus? Are you carefully wording your promises to him and to us to avoid actually having to do anything? Are you happy letting Arsène trample on his own legacy, watching idly as thousands of fans turn on him, safe knowing your finger prints will never be dusted around the corpse of Arsenal’s season when Wenger willingly will walk away in cuffs?
You see, Stan, my worry is that I’ve, like many, chosen like many to believe that it’s illogical for the board to settle for what is so easily achievable for a club like Arsenal and a manager like Arsène Wenger and that external forces have transpired against us and you’ve laughed all the way to the bank on the path paved with our gullibility and wishful thoughts. I worry that what was once true; richer rivals, lack of funds and a scarce market for talent, is now being used to not invest properly with impunity.
Last summer, and throughout the season, I backed Wenger’s decision not to buy players that were not significant upgrades on our starting players because I believed only buying World Class players was the way forward. I still believe the best way to improve your squad is to improve your starters which makes current starters your depth. A club with Santi Cazorla as the understudy is stronger than the club with an understudy to Santi Cazorla but does Wenger truly believe that is the only way or is that they only way he believes he can take us forward? They might sound like the same thing but the former is a type of arrogance and stubbornness that you put up with when you’re winning whilst the latter suggests he has little choice in the matter.
Project youth was largely a failure at Arsenal but it was a necessary project to cope with the financial restraints of moving to the Emirates. Project Only World Class players works well for clubs like Bayern, Barca and Madrid as not only do they have the resources to do it on an annual basis they also have the prestige to attract the relevant players. Arsenal is by no means an unattractive club but in a fist fight with one of those giants we will lose 9/10 at best.
So, why does Wenger seem hesitant to splash out? Is it genuinely a lack of available talent? I can understand that. Why does he not lower his sights a little and look for the best from the rest? That’s the question thrown out when you attempt to defend his decision. Is it possible that his so called war chest won’t be replenished once it’s gone? Is he fearful of spending big on a risky player because he knows he won’t get any more? Does he see spending £50m on Aubameyang as a risk because if he doesn’t adapt as well as hoped his resell value would plummet and that’s £50m you won’t give him again?
Is the manager being funded properly, Stan? If he is then surely there can be no excuse for not investing in the team. If not then you need to explain why. You’re taking £3m a year from this club and honestly, I don’t think anyone would give a rat’s ass if we were winning the title or getting to the latter stages of the Champions League. It’s a relatively insignificant sum in the grand scheme of things but it rankles because we’re not seeing results on the pitch.
This group of players really should be walking the league this season but once again injuries have hurt us and people are wondering why we haven’t planned for that with better players to come in when the need arises.
I don’t think you’re a bad owner, Stan, but I don’t think you’re a particularly good one either. The long term stability of this club is without question under your ownership but our ability to compete is. And that should worry you. If Arsenal fall out of the top four it’s going to be incredibly difficult to get back in. With the managers, players and resources available to them Manchesters United and City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs are viable candidates for a top four spot. Now, with the increased revenues from the TV deal and generally more level playing field for top quality talent, the bracket we’ve eschewed shopping in for vain attempts at prizing away world class talent from gargantuan clubs, teams like Everton, West Ham, Southampton and Leicester are challengers with the stomach to last longer than ever before in the pursuit of the higher reaches of the table. With Arsenal included that is 50% of the league with a strong chance of taking up just four spots.
It’s hard enough to compete as it is without losing players who do not wish to play in the Europa League or failing to attract others who would help raise us back up. Arsenal simply cannot afford to fall out of the top four and the best way to counteract that chilling thought is to stop being a top four competitor and be a true title contender. We simply have to invest. It’s not just about how much we spend, it’s also about having sufficient cover in all areas and players we can count on. We need to be more ruthless with under-performing and perpetually injured players and more open to taking risks with signing players. Leicester and Spurs are great evidence of taking risks on players overlooked by other big clubs and using their hunger to propel them up the table. That starts with you.
If the manager is not making every effort to put us in a position to compete then you have to enforce a change. I’m a huge Arsène Wenger fan but I’m also no longer sure why he’s not getting the best out of the squad he has so carefully built. We have a fantastic group of players and either he isn’t doing enough with them or you’re hindering him. I think it’s probably a bit of both but it’s down to you to fix it.
Should Arsenal drop out of the top four it would be terrible for your investment. There would be riots were you to take money out of the club and ticket prices were to stay the same despite no Champions League football. Sponsors would be looking to renegotiate terms as proven by Manchester United who are not immune to being out of the Champions League. You have to fix this, Stan. You have the power to back the manager to the hilt or bring in a new one.
By most standards we are not having a bad season but you need to appreciate that success is relative and a club like Arsenal is better than finishing 3rd or 4th. Being knocked out of the FA Cup at home is a tragedy for a club like Arsenal and the players we boast and even more so when you consider we are unlikely to win a trophy this season. Trailing Leicester in the league is a travesty but worse still, we’re behind Tottenham. This cannot be considered a successful season. If by some miracle we win the league or the Champions League we cannot just assume all is dandy, we have to move forward. Forward, Stan. Hopefully you’re familiar with why that word is so important to Arsenal supporters.
You’re a businessman and you’re no doubt familiar with the term ‘you have to speculate to accumulate’. It’s time for Arsenal to speculate. I’m not asking for you to bankroll us, I don’t want you to spend a single penny of your own money on players. What I do want is for you to make money available to the manager without condition. I want the current and any future manager to know that there is money available to him every year. No rollovers, no saving up, just a fixed amount based on success and the ability to request more for exceptional players or where required. If he doesn’t spend it then that’s it, gone.
I think more than anything I want some accountability at Arsenal. Wenger takes the blame for everything and I want to know if he deserves it or not. You’re a big man with a lot of money so I’m sure us telling you what we think of you should it actually be you that is hindering Arsenal won’t keep you up at night but throwing Wenger under the bus so noises aren’t made that you would never hear anyway is cowardly.
So that’s my rambling open letter to Stan. I’m sure you can tell how confused and conflicted I am with Arsenal and hope you forgive my blustering as a symptom of that. Frankly I’m embarrassed to have written an ‘open letter’ to Stan but sometimes you just need to purge your thoughts.
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